Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Increasing in Virtue: Boys to Men

by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis™ ™Level 4 (eighth grade) to be read three times a week during Lent. While it is a book written for young men, they believe it is applicable for everyone.

The authors address the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and love specifically for teenage boys who seek to grow into men of virtue. Seven chapters are devoted to one of the virtues. Each one ends with questions that guide the reader to draw conclusions from the reading and his own personal life. Many of the questions direct the reader to seek and read specific Bible verses focused on the virtue in question with wonderful open-ended questions like "What do the following passages tell us about wisdom?" The two other chapters are an introduction and a conclusion.

Right from the beginning, Gray and Martin assure the reader that being virtuous takes hard work and planning, but that a life of virtue is open to everyone.
To be a morally good person takes more than wishing to be good or having the right values. Rather, it takes a rock-solid character that has the strength to will what is right, not just value what is good...A virtue is a good, habitual action of the will, and not only is a virtue an action that is habitual, it is an action that is done with promptness and, in a certain sense, pleasure.
I was really tempted to highlight this one for my teenager, but I refrained.
One of the great challenges in this area, but one of tremendous value, is being able to accept correction. We all make mistakes, but to be man enough to take ownership and responsibility for them, and to have the courage to see them when they are pointed out, is the key to real growth in virtue.
The chapters on the virtues are excellent. They delve deeply into the definition of the virtue, what it looks like when lived as a husband, a father, an employee, or an employer, and the kinds of practices that develop the virtue.
Too often we view work as a necessary evil that impedes our fulfillment, but this is not true. It is vital to note that work was given to man before the Fall; it is not of itself a curse. The toil, sweat, and thorns that follow the Fall add an element of suffering to the vocation of work, but work itself is noble.
This chapter, on work focuses a lot of men and business and work in a way that felt a little odd given how many women are in the workforce now (including me for the first ten-odd years of motherhood), but it's not surprising given the audience. I would have liked to see at least a few sentences addressing issues like how to behave toward women at work and the importance of managing a family with two parents in the workforce. The book was written in 2001, recently enough for these kinds of issues to be acknowledged.
The Scriptures tell us that the man who acts justly is called righteous. He is righteous because he has right relations with everyone. The virtue of justice turns our attention to others and to God, calling us to make things right in the world. This begins with offering worship and thanksgiving to God but overflows to care for others. Christians have a special duty to take care of others and influence the world around them because Christ commissioned us to be a light to the world.
The fifth chapter focuses on temperance, and the main issue is sexual temperance. Even temperance in other areas is usually included as practice for the really important one.
The struggle for self-mastery is a dramatic one, but it begins with modest steps. A good exercise is to gain control of one's appetite with food and drink. Disciplining the will to the pleasures of food and drink is a training ground that trains the will to be self-controlled in the face of sexual pleasures. Fasting, as well as abstaining from rich food and drink, is a means of further exercising one's will, putting one's desires into subjection to the will and reason.
It's not a bad chapter, though, and I would think it acceptable for any eighth grade student, but if you're only going to pre-read one chapter, you might want to choose this one on temperance.
If we take our eyes off of the final prize, then we can easily lose the desire that hope enkindles in us. If we lose our desire for heavenly glory, we will sink into the pursuit of earthly goods that are poor counterfeits of the eternal; they are mere trinkets compared to the glorious reward that awaits those who hope for heaven.
The eighth chapter, on love, speaks directly about the how a man of virtue would show love to his wife and family.
The feelings may have been necessary at the beginning of courtship, but if it evolves into true love, feelings become secondary. Marriage is about a choice to commit one's life to another for their well-being regardless of emotions. This is sometimes very difficult, but it is an example of the self-sacrificing nature of love.
The entire book is an invitation to increase in virtue.
In the end, the moral life is about liberty or slavery: the liberty that comes only through virtuous living (acting according to a properly ordered nature), or the slavery that comes from surrendering to our passions and desires (acting according to a disordered nature). 
There are questions at the end of each chapter to challenge the reader to apply the understanding of the virtue to situations, generally found in the Bible. To answer these questions seriously, a student would need a Bible or access to one online. They challenge the reader to work on the virtues each week (if one chapter is read each week) and suggest specific actions to develop the virtue. Most chapters end with memory verses or prayers.

First Son spent two days on each chapter: one to read the text and begin the questions, a second day to complete the questions. He answered them in his reading journal, but I did not read his answers. I wanted him to feel free to write anything in response without worrying about what his mother would think when she read his answers. The Mater Amabilis™ page did not mark this book as one for narration, so I did not require one, but I think it would be possible to narrate the chapter and then answer the questions privately.

While many of the questions are specific to the role of men in the community and the family, most of them either apply equally well to women or can easily be adapted to do so. When my daughters read this book (and I will assign it), I will talk with them before they begin, asking them to consider the reading and the exercises by considering in their minds how they might be able to use them to grow into women of virtue. I will also ask them to consider further how what they read in this book may help them to identify young men of virtue if they are called to the vocation of marriage.

I purchased this book used. The Amazon links above are affiliate links. The opinions here are my own.

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